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Many immigrant groups have a long tradition of turning to education as the mechanism best suited to promoting their children's success. From the host countries' perspective, the level of education achieved by the children of immigrants is one critical measure of the long-term, multi-generational integration of immigrants. Since the children of immigrants are a significant component of the total population in Canada and the U.S., it is important to know whether and why the children of various immigrant groups are performing, educationally, at levels above or below those of their counterparts with Canadian-born or American-born parents.
This paper reviews current Canadian and American research on the educational attainment achieved by the second generation (the children of immigrants born in the host country, either Canada or the U.S.), and its determinants. Educational outcomes in the two countries are addressed separately and from two perspectives. First, how does the educational attainment of the second generation compare to that of the third-and-higher generations (i.e., the children of domestic-born parents), and what are the determinants of the educational attainment gap between these two groups? The second perspective is intergenerational. How are the children of immigrants doing compared to their parents?
On average, in Canada the children of immigrants have educational levels significantly above those of their counterparts with Canadian-born parents. In the U.S., educational levels are roughly the same between these two groups (unconditional comparisons). In both countries, conditional on the educational attainment of the parents and location of residence, the children of immigrants outperform the third-and-higher generations in terms of educational attainment. Parental education and urban location are major determinants of the gap in educational attainment between the children of immigrants and children with Canadian-born or American-born parents. However, even after one has accounted for these and other demographic background variables, in Canada much of the positive gap between the second generation and the third-and-higher generations remains.
In Canada, parental education is less important as a determinant of educational attainment among the children in immigrant families than among those with Canadian-born parents. Less educated immigrant parents are more likely to see their children attain higher levels of education than are their Canadian-born counterparts. In the U.S., the extent to which the parents' advantage (or disadvantage) in educational attainment is passed on to their children appears to be about the same among immigrant and American-born families.
Outcomes vary significantly by ethnic/source region group in both countries. In the U.S., some second-generation ethnic/source region groups, such as those with Mexican, Puerto Rican and other Central/South American backgrounds, have relatively low levels of education, even though, conditional on background characteristics, they outperform their third-and-higher-generation counterparts. This result is in part related to the low levels of education among their immigrant parents. An increasing share of U.S. immigration since the 1980s has been from Central and South America, particularly Mexico.
In contrast, in Canada, children of the larger and increasingly numerically important immigrant groups (Chinese, South Asians, Africans, etc.) register superior educational attainment levels to those of the third-and-higher generations. This result is partly related to the high levels of parental education and of group-level "ethnic capital" among these immigrant groups. The educational attainment among entering immigrants has been rising since the 1980s in Canada.